The Midland Hotel - Morecambe
From English Lakes Blog - full article here
Whilst concentrating on the 80th anniversary of the hotel in 2013 English Lakes added the musings of Tanya Stewart to their website.
You may be surprised to discover that the total number of seahorses in the hotel is forty-nine. The first five are easy to place! Two greet you on your arrival, standing outside at the top of the tower, as the only embellishments to the exterior of the building, which started life as two lumps of Portland stone, carved in situ by Gill. Our next is the mosaic seahorse that lies inset into the floor of the Foyer. Across from this you will find two marking the bottom of the grand cantilevered staircase, engraved on both hand rails. The other 44 can be found one in each bedroom bathroom in the shower grate! So next time you stay be sure not to miss it!
Marion Dorn, born in the US in 1896, became a successful designer in the 1920’s and was known as an innovator of Modernist interiors. She was commissioned to design and provide various interiors for The Midland such as carpets, rugs, fabric and perhaps most notably the mosaic seahorse that lies inset into the floor of the Foyer. Hill was responsible for persuading the committee to adopt Dorn’s seahorse as the emblem of the hotel, and we know that she was paid a fee of just £20 for the trade rights, to include use of the seahorse design on any equipment throughout the hotel. The mosaic seahorse is still intact in the hotel today as an original feature, however unfortunately various other pieces by Dorn, such as the rugs in the lobby, were not saved during the renovation and the rugs we see today are replicas of the originals.
The grand staircase spirals upwards from the entrance hall and is a full cantilever staircase containing 74 steps, with each step supported by the previous step and the following step. On its opening in 1933 it attracted enormous attention from contemporary reviewers of the time, with one describing it magnificently as: “… a fairy staircase that one would willingly climb till it reached to Heaven.”
An interesting aspect to note is that the staircase has been designed back to front; usually a staircase is entered from the left hand side and not the right. This is a deliberate design to emulate combatant times of the past when the majority of men were right-handed and so they would attack with swords whilst the left-handed men would defend.
If the above is based on truth, then why not reverse everything and have the staircase the right way round like in the Midland's 'twin', The Ocean Hotel, in Saltdean?
From first entrance into the entrance hall your eye will immediately be drawn upwards to Gill’s medallion of Triton and Neptune looking down on you. The wording on the piece reads: “And hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.” This was supposed to echo the last line of a sonnet written in 1807 by William Wordsworth. Unfortunately there was a slight mistake made as the sonnet actually reads: “Or hear old Triton blow his horn.” On the medallion you can see Neptune, Triton and two sea nymphs. It is interesting to note that we know the completed carving we see today differs from original plans in that, on the hands and feet of Neptune you can see signs of stigmata.
The Odysseus mural behind reception depicts the story of Odysseus being welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa. Odysseus was shipwrecked and washed ashore, with no possessions. Young Princess ‘Nausicaa’ found him and with the blessing of her father the King, Odysseus was brought fruit, wine, materials and was welcomed to stay. Gill felt that this was a true representation of the hospitality industry, as he saw Princess Nausicaa as the Hotelier welcoming Odysseus, the weary guest! The quote underneath from Homer affirms this image: “There is good hope that thou mayest see thy friends.” The entire piece weighs 6 tonnes, is made up of 16 sections and was stolen around the time of The Eric Gill Exhibition in the 1980’s, but luckily later recovered! (See 1999 below)
From the Independent - Ian Herbert Friday 13 August 1999
A MURAL created by one of Britain's finest sculptors and valued at pounds 1.5m has been found in the back of a van in West Yorkshire, 11 months after its bizarre theft.
Estimated weight of the Eric Gill relief is six tonnes, which may say something for the efforts of the thieves who spirited it out of a storage cupboard at the Midland Hotel in Morecambe, Lancashire. Surveillance officers from the National Crime Squad, which specialise in tackling organised crime, have now seized it in Pontefract, West Yorkshire. The Gill piece, Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa, has been taken back to Lancashire where, by a previous court order, it must be restored to the walls of the Midland. The hotel, a monument to the 1930s art deco style, is littered with Gill's work. The timing could hardly be better. The Midland is for sale at a rumoured pounds 750,000 and solicitors seeking a buyer now have an artefact worth twice that much to throw in. Yet few works worth pounds 1.5m value have been less cherished than the 16ft by 10ft mural, which depicts classical bathers in various states of undress and demonstrates Gill's obsession with the naked body. The piece, which was boxed up in 14 crates of several hundredweight each when stolen, ranks as one of Gill's best works. It was made just after he had completed his celebrated Prospero and Ariel relief, which stands on the front of BBC Broadcasting House.
But the hotel's late owner, Les Whittingham, detested the mural. He never bothered to recover it from the Barbican in London after loaning it out for a Gill exhibition there and was begrudgingly forced to take it back. After seven years of legal wrangles with Lancaster Council, a court order denied Mr Whittingham the right to sell it and ordered its return to the Midland. But last year, within six months of its return, a council conservation team found it was missing once more.
Since its discovery last week, two 42-year- old men from Lincolnshire have been arrested.The mural's creation coincided with great days for the hotel, a once gloomy Victorian pile which was taken over by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, renamed the Midland and rebuilt to the design of famed architect Oliver Hill at a cost of pounds 70,000. It was a time when the British were streaming to resorts like Morecambe and the railway companies were cashing in. Despite the Depression, streamlined new LMS trains accompanied the hotel's reincarnation and there was a stone jetty, from which the Irish Steam Boat sailed. Gill, who had a hand in the hotel's design, also carved two stone seahorses which still stand above the Midland's main entrance and are its insignia.
On the ceiling above the circular staircase which sweeps out of the foyer is his mural of Neptune's son. However, that once white ceiling is terribly smoke-stained and visitors tread a stained carpet to reach it. Paint peels from the once brilliant white exterior, which in its day was electrically polished so the surface resembled marble. Morecambe's bitter winter storms have cracked the window panes and the salt spray long ago rotted the steel windows of the dilapidated Eric Gill suite, where his relief of Morecambe Bay still hangs. It was by a minor miracle that a few guests shuffled through the Midland's sparse tea-rooms this week. Here lives British seaside shabbiness with all the old glamour gone.
Gill's relief could be a saviour for the place, which to a prospective buyer is desperately short on enticements. However, until a new owner is found, his recently-recovered creation remains unceremoniously holed up in boxes in Lancaster Council's vaults.
"The police still had it in the back of the hired van it was found in," said Gary Phillips, "but they had to shift it. "The hire firm wanted the van back."
Page updated : 12th September 2016